The study of the Church is also known as ecclesiology. In general, ecclesiology addresses various issues, the most basic being a biblical definition of the "church" and its functions. Other issues involved in ecclesiology include forms of church government, leadership offices, ordinances, worship, and the relationship between the New Testament church and Israel, the Old Testament people of God. Therefore, a clear and biblical understanding is important to both Christian belief and practice.

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Defining "church"

Various problems have arisen as a result of the multiple usages of the term church. It is sometimes used to describe a building or some other structure. At other times it refers a specific group of believers who, for example, attend Christian Reformed Church on 1st Street. Now and then it is also used to refer to a denomination such as Presbyterians, or Baptists.

The word ecclesiology comes from the Greek ekklesia meaning assembly. While the term today is closely tied to the Christian church, its roots are broader. It is a compound of the Greek preposition ek (out from) and the verb kaleo (to call). The most generic definition given by Thayer's Greek Lexicon is "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place." This generic sense of the word is used several times in one passage of the New Testament (Acts 19:32, 39 & 41) in reference not to the church but to a group of Ephesian craftsmen speaking out against the Apostle Paul and his companions.

The Septuagint used ekklesia to translate the Hebrew word qâhâl, meaning a congregation, assembly, company or other organized body (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions). These Old Testament uses of ekklesia are not regarded as referring to the New Testament church. For example, the word church does not appear in the King James Version of the Old Testament.

Ekklesia is found most often in the writings of Paul. Millard Erickson states that "the term usually has reference to a group of believers in a specific city. Thus we find Paul's letters addressed the 'the churh of God in Corinth' (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), 'the churches in Galatia" (Gal. 1:2), 'the church of the Thessalonians' (1 Thess. 1:1)," (Christian Theology, p. 1042-43). The NT picture of the church is also universal. That is, there is one body (Eph 4:4) and there are times when church is used to speak of the entire church (cf. 1 Cor 10:32, 11:22, 12:28; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18, 24). Thus, the church is "the whole body of those who through Christ's death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life... while universal in nature, it finds expressions in local groupings of believers that display the same qualities as does the body of Christ as a whole," (Erickson, p. 1044).

Biblical images of the church

See main pages: Body of Christ, Bride of Christ, People of God, Temple of the Holy Spirit

Difficult issues

  • The Church and the Kingdom
  • The Church and Israel
  • The visible and invisible Church

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